“We are writing to inform you that we will be removing surplus generated ground arisings over the following dates…”
…says the first sentence of a letter I received recently.
Well what the heck does it mean? It honestly took me five minutes to understand, and I’m a well-educated copywriter.
Here’s what I’d write instead…
“On these dates we’ll be cleaning the mud off the road…”
That’s plain English folks. And it works. Your reader will quickly understand it.
In this post:
- Why plain English is best
- Why some people think it’s not (but you should use it anyway)
- How to write in plain English
What is plain English?
Put simply, plain English is text written clearly and concisely in the right tone of voice that bears your reader in mind. It’s not patronising or over-simplified, you don’t need to reduce the length of your message or change its meaning, and you don’t have to ban new or long words. It can even be even ok if your grammar’s not perfect.
Why writing in plain English is best
Writing in plain English is far better than creating a complicated, jargon-rich piece that takes loads of time and energy to read. Why would you bother if the first few sentences leave you baffled?
And almost anything can be written in plain English.
Yes, even your article on hypnotherapy and neuroplasticity. These may be words your target audience doesn’t know, but if so, just explain each as you write. I’ve come across three year old’s who understand centrifugal forces when explained properly!*
Problem is many people think you must use complicated language to be professional and convey authority. And we’ve learned to accept this official style of writing as proper. Hmm… me thinks it’s actually unfriendly, off-putting and inefficient. It certainly makes life harder when you need to know something quickly. How long did it take you to understand the government’s first COVID-19 updates?
Are you sure plain English works?
While there are plenty of arguments against using plain English…
- But that’s the technical term
- My target market will understand it anyway
- It won’t sound professional
- That’ll dumb down our language
- It doesn’t sound right
…we’re all human.
Whatever context we work in.
And correct me if I’m wrong, but we tend to talk conversationally to one another, using plain English. So why wouldn’t you write this way? It’s how we engage best with one another.
How to write in plain English
So how can you do it?
These are just a few suggestions to get you started:
- Use short sentences and paragraphs
- Choose the active voice instead of the passive voice, e.g. “I buttered the bread roll” not “The bread roll was buttered by me”
- It’s ok to use contractions, e.g. ‘You’ll’ not ‘You will’
- Avoid nominalisations – when you convert a word or phrase into a noun, e.g. sleepy becomes sleepiness
- Choose words suitable for your reader – remove in-house jargon and explain technical terms
- Use lists where appropriate
There’s more detail here: How to write in plain English for business success
If in doubt about your writing ask, “Have I used plain English?” and go through this list. Your text will be easy to understand so people will read it and can act on it. Helping your business to be a success.
The question is, has my favourite road cleaner got it right yet?
Well here’s their latest offering – you decide:
“We have employed [construction company name] to undertake the removal of excess inert muck from the site…”
Looking for a copywriter who’ll weave your words with wisdom? Contact me here and I’ll be in touch. Meanwhile, here are 15 awesome business-blogging ideas, totally free. The perfect way to practice your plain English writing.
*A few definitions, just so you know…
- Hypnotherapy – the use of hypnosis as a therapeutic technique
- Neuroplasticicty – the ability of the brain to form and reorganise its connections
- Centrifugal force – the apparent outward force on a mass when it is rotated